How and Why We Fast

Have you ever heard a friend say, “Oh, I can’t do lunch today. I’m fasting”? I know I have, and it always leaves me slightly puzzled. Not puzzled because they’re fasting, but puzzled that they told me. Fasting is one of the best-kept secrets of the Christian life. So, why are we talking about something that’s supposed to be a secret?

I had a hard time taking on this blog post because seasons of fasting in my life are some of my favorite “good secrets” between God and me. I really feel like he prompted me to share three things with you today: what Scripture says about fasting, what He has taught me through the discipline of fasting, and an encouragement to make it a regular part of your spiritual life.

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What Scripture Says About Fasting

In the Sermon on the Mount found in the book of Matthew, Jesus teaches about fasting. He says, “And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (Matthew 6:16-18)

I just happen to be going through Beth Moore’s Sacred Secrets Bible study with my small group right now, so we’re all up in the business of secrets. There’s a difference between good secrets and bad secrets, and fasting is a good secret. If you’ve neever fasted before, it’s one of the most intimate times with God I’ve ever experienced. When we forego food, there’s a dependency on Jesus that we can’t explain. He literally becomes the bread of life in a new way.

The passage above is just one example of countless references throughout the Old and New Testaments about fasting. I looked up the word for “fast” in Strong’s Concordance, and when you translate the Greek word it means, “to not eat.” Pretty straightforward if you ask me! Throughout Scripture, we see many occasions where people are fasting and praying for those who are sick or who have a great need. Other times, it’s for an answer to prayer or just for intimate time with God. When we forego food and spend intentional time with God, He speaks. We watched Jesus model it for us in the Gospels, especially when he fasted for 40 days in the desert (Matthew 4).

Fasting in Scripture: Ezra 8:21; Ezra 9:5; Nehemiah 1:4; Esther 4:3; Psalm 69:10; Isaiah 58; Daniel 9:3; Joel 2:12; Matthew 4:2; Acts 13:2-3; Acts 14:23

My Experience

I had a hard time figuring out how to write this part because we’ve just talked about fasting being a secret! I feel like the Lord prompted me to share this with you, and I hope you’ll see it as a teaching point and an encouragement. There have been several occasions where the Lord has called me into long seasons of fasting. These weren’t by my choice but by a very clear prompting of the Holy Spirit, which he confirmed. I cried when I felt like God was calling me to fast for longer periods of time because honestly, I love food. It represents fellowship with friends and family to me, and I knew that the season was going to look radically different from normal. After talking to several godly men and women who were in my life who prayed over me and with me, God confirmed through the reading of Scripture and the teaching of his Word that this was exactly what he was calling me to do.

I won’t go into great detail, but I look back on that time period and remember how very challenging it was. And yet it was also one of the richest seasons of my spiritual walk with God. He spoke to me so clearly, and used that season as preparation for a very difficult season that was quickly to follow. He used that time to re-shape my heart and truly make it new. I had to be completely dependent on the Lord. There were days I wanted to quit, and I really had to grab onto the fact that God had called me to do this, and that he would sustain me. I still fed my body through juicing, but it was hard!*

In other seasons, I’ve fasted for one day a week or one day a month. Don’t feel like fasting has to be for a long period of time, but be open to it if the Lord leads.

What Does This Look Like for You?

Don’t ask God “if” he wants you to fast, but how and when. Scripture is clear that it’s a part of our relationship with Him. Matthew 6:16 says “when you fast” not “if.” Some of you have medical conditions that prevent you from fasting from food—and that’s fine!* What is something else in your life that you can lay on the altar to spend more time with God? For those of you who can fast from food, don’t choose something else to fast from just because it seems easier than giving up food. When we see fasting in Scripture, it’s always from food.

Fasting is a part of our love and worship to our Savior. He is worth it, and he is more than worthy of it! Maybe He’s calling you to fast one meal a week, or one day a week. Maybe it’s once a month. Some of my single friends have spent one day a week fasting for their future husbands. Maybe you have a sick family member or friend that you can fast and pray for.

Whenever you do fast, don’t boast about it. It can be one of the sweetest secrets between you and the Lord. Certainly don’t lie about it, but ask God for a way to say something like, “Thanks for inviting me to lunch, but I’m just going to stay here today.” When you do fast, don’t pick up your phone or just keep working over lunch. Get into the Word! Spend time praying and asking God to move and to speak clearly to you. If you put yourself in a position to hear from Him, I believe you will.

*Disclaimer: If you do feel led to fast for more than a day or two, do it under the authority of your doctor. Do your homework and make sure you give your body the nutrition it needs. I’ve done several juice fasts, but it was after a lot of research and preparation.

Mary Margaret Collingsworth is an Event Project Coordinator at LifeWay. Read more from Mary Margaret at her blog, Story of My Life, or on Twitter @marymargaretc.


  1. says

    Good Job. I appreciated the teaching point and encouragement. This has been a sweet reminder of a discipline I need to begin to practice once again. Grateful for you Mary Margaret.

  2. Deb Mott says

    Thank you for the anointed message!
    Fasting has been mysterious in a way to me. When I first started it at all, I really did it out of obedience (knew supposed to… Yet honestly I have not always obeyed that prompting either!) and not out of devotion. I often have had wrong motives… EXAMPLE: in my heart I kind of like made deals with God… Selfish. Yet He has been gracious and merciful and very faithful to meet me in every little effort right where I am … When I sought Him at all, He has always been there. I confess I have not made fasting a PRACTICE OF INTIMACY!
    Thank you again for the anointed message! Great encouragement Truth, help!
    I needed to see it is not a formula to do to get my way but to change my will to His ! Just recently studied where Jesus said “this kind comes out only by prayer and fasting”… So we know that some strongholds of enemy have to be attacked by prayer AND FASTING!
    Perhaps America’s only hope is a collective 3 day fast within Body of Christ? I have thought of that so often. I know Jesus came to save the lost and RAISE THE DEAD… Some think they are alive in Him and He will say depart from me I never knew you! Others are very dry bones (thank you Beth for amazing teaching last night on Ez 37!!!) in sinful lifestyles of deadly proportions, dead in sin… And CHRIST JESUS MESSIAH LONGS TO BRING LIFE AND BRING THEM UNDER HIS WING!!!! Let us pray for willingness for many to come to Jesus in this 11th hour! Revelation 12:11!

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